It is ironic that Holi which is a festival which celebrates nature in all its hues and finery, and also the triumph of good over evil, is today largely celebrated with toxic, unhealthy and deadly chemicals.
Industrial dyes are largely used as Holi colours since they are cheaper and often gaudier. The price they extract however on human health and environmental well-being is tremendous. These chemicals were never developed for human use, including Holi colours. Synthetic Holi colours contain cheap, toxic substances which affect human health including mica, acids, alkalis, pieces of glass, etc. The mildest forms of adverse health effects include hair and skin problems like abrasions, irritation, itching, rashes, allergies, eye infections, hair roughness, etc. whilst the more serious forms include poisoning, impaired vision, respiratory problems and cancer. The risks increase when these colours are mixed with oils and fluids and applied to the skin.
Holi colours are commonly available in three forms – Pastes, dry colours and wet colours.
The metallic pastes which impart the glistening silver or black or white are tremendously toxic. Here are some of the chemicals one finds in pastes and their effects on human health:
|Black||Lead oxide||Renal Failure|
|Green||Copper Sulphate||Eye Allergy, Puffiness and Temporary blindness|
|Blue||Prussian Blue||Contract Dermatitis|
|Red||Mercury Sulphite||Highly toxic can cause skin cancer|
Dry Colours (Gulal)
Dry colours are typically a colourant mixed with a filler base. In chemical colours, these are usually a deadly combination of toxic heavy metals and asbestos or silica. Heavy metals are known to be systemic toxins which disrupt the body’s metabolic functions, and also build up in the body’s vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and bones. Asbestos and silica are also extremely dangerous. Here are some of the chemicals and metals one comes across in dry colours, and the effects they have on health :
|Lead||Learning disability, highly toxic for children, affects vital organs, affects unborn children|
|Chromium||Bronchial asthma, Allergies|
|Cadmium||Itai Ita disease (fragile bones)|
|Copper||Affects eyes, skin, respiratory system, liver and kidneys|
|Mercury||Affects kidney, liver, nervous system, unborn children.|
|Iron||Skin becomes sensitive to light|
|Silica||Skin dries and chaps|
|Asbestos||Carcinogenic, even in small quantities, Builds up in the body.|
One common and easily available water colourant used during Holi is Gentian violet, a highly toxic and hazardous chemical. Exposure to Gentian violet leads to severe skin ailments and eye problems.
The environmental impact of a toxic, chemical-laced Holi is rarely mentioned. Imagine the damage that tons of heavy metals and toxic chemicals can inflict upon the Earth, polluting our soil and water, and most importantly contaminating it forever.
And now exploiting the fear some people have about using these toxic colours, a new trend of late is to market relatively non-toxic chemical dyes as eco-friendly Holi colours. Whilst these may be safer than the regular chemical colours, they are by no means natural or 100% safe or biodegradable, even when mixed to edible fillers like flours or starch.
If you are now aghast at the idea of playing Holi, there are alternatives. You can make natural Holi colours at home. You can also use completely natural Holi colours such as the ones made at our homes.